Missourians say show me the I-70 project money; state plan includes trucks-only lanes

The Missouri DOT says the proposed I-70 rebuild could include trucks-only lanes, as pictured here.The Missouri DOT says the proposed I-70 rebuild could include trucks-only lanes, as pictured here.

Missouri leaders continue pondering how to pay for a 200-mile reconstruction of deteriorating I-70. Efforts to ban tolls on the project are ongoing. The most expensive proposal for the project includes four trucks-only lanes.

The $2-billion to $4-billion renovation of the Interstate, built 1956-1965, would begin in Independence and end nearly at Wentzville. The long-discussed plan faces hurdles common among states attempting major transportation projects after funding became more difficult for ongoing operations and maintenance more than a decade ago. Still, taxpayers nationwide remain resistant to instituting tolling, public-private partnerships (P3) or fuel tax hikes to pay for such projects.

Wayne Baker, founder of A Better Road Forward, filed petitions against tolling existing roads in hope of putting the measure on the 2018 ballot. One small I-70 manufacturer told him tolling would add an annual $150,000 to the company’s freight costs, said Baker, who heads the Missouri-based Warrenton Oil Co.

Missouri’s Secretary of State gave him go-ahead May 17 to circulate the petitions for the roughly 160,000 signatures reportedly needed to put the issue before voters.

Baker has criticized the Interstate 70 Public-Private Partnership Act or HB 155, which could allow tolling. However, it has not gained any co-sponsors and shows no signs of gaining momentum after it was introduced last December. “We don’t need another ‘too large to fail’ Wall Street corporate bailout for toll roads in our state,” Baker said.

In May, state lawmakers inserted a last-minute prohibition in MoDOT’s budget against using funds to pay any expense related to tolling interstates.

This month, President Trump proposed using $200 billion in public funds to generate $800 billion in private money for via a partnership program to fund government bonds. Little information has been released on the plan, which would also use interstate tolls and user fees to provide a profit to private companies.

Results have been mixed for P3s with long-term leases, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported last December.

“Most long-term lease concessions are no longer held by their original private sector equity investors and two have incurred bankruptcies,” it stated. “While several initial private sector investors have been challenged to realize expected returns from their investments in the near-term, public sector sponsors have generally benefited from their long-term lease transactions.”

Project sponsors received large upfront payments entering into leases agreements, but forego the income these existing toll facilities would have provided, according to the report.

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